Preview: USA begin U-20 World Cup quest vs. Spain

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For Tab Ramos’ youngsters, the road leading up to the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey has been long and arduous.

But all that preparation stops today, as the US begin their World Cup dream against Spain in Istanbul.

After a lengthy warm up in the Toulon tournament in France, Ramos’ men have finally reached Turkey, despite the tournament being under scrutiny due to the large anti-government protests currently going on in Istanbul and other cities.

However the games will go ahead and the USA find themselves in the dreaded “Group of Death” with Spain, France and Ghana.

Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Freddy Adu, DaMarcus Beasley and Tim Howard all shone for the US U-20 side in tournaments like this in the past. Who will follow suit for the Nats?

Whoever excels, these youngsters must grow up fast if the US U-20’s are going to make it to the knockout stages. With just one win from four games in Toulon, the USA came up against France, Colombia, South Korea and Congo DR. The step up in class showed from the CONCACAF tournament back in March when they lost to Mexico in the final.

Toulon was just a warmup and plenty of players were used to try and make decisions on who made the final roster. So you can’t read into those results too much. But now with Ramos’ squad settled, he will be counting on all of them to play a part in Turkey.

What they’re saying

Head coach Tab Ramos: “We feel very good about our roster and the players we have selected, and we certainly feel like we have good talent here with us. The thing about Spain is they play the same way in all age group. We just saw the U-21 team win the European Championships [in a 4-2 victory over Italy], playing the same way as the first team. Our first team upset Spain four years ago, and there’s no reason we can’t do that same thing on Friday.”

Luis Gil:Every game we have to respect the other team and give it our all. But against Spain we have to give it that extra push and be strong as a team. I feel like we will get through it.”

Key men

Ramos has scoured the globe for the best talent available to him, with a pool of over 75 players scrutinized by the former US star and his coaching staff. His squad of 21 players are currently playing in MLS, England, Mexico and Germany. And it is the MLSers who are attracting plenty of interest as the tournament is set to kick off. 19-year-old Seattle Sounders right back DeAndre Yedlin has received high praise from Ramos, with the youngster earmarked for a bright future. While Real Salt Lake’s Luis Gil has also been a regular in MLS this season, with the attacker set to give the US their creative spark. And another MLS regular, Shane O’Neill of the Colorado Rapids, will anchor the defense after breaking into Colorado’s lineup this season. While Jose Villarreal has excelled for the LA Galaxy this year, scoring and creating goals with ease. He could be the jewel in the crown as the USA aim to win their first U-20 World Cup.

Schedule

USA vs. Spain, Friday June 21, (2 pm ET, ESPN2/Univision Deportes)

USA vs. France, Monday June 24, (11am ET, ESPN2/Univision Deportes)

USA vs. Ghana, Thursday June 27, (1 pm ET, ESPN2/Univision Deportes)

Predictions

The USA have a tough task ahead of them. Spain and France often produce the best young players in the world and their records at this level are pretty enviable. However, the majority of Ramos’ side have now been on the road together for a long time, over a month, as they prepare for the task ahead. Their is a unity and togetherness that could hold them in good stead. If Villarreal and Gil produce the attacking nous they’re known for, the US could pull off a shock and reach the latter stages. But, unfortunately, Group A really is the “Group of Death” and it would require a minor miracle for the USA to qualify. But who knows?

Checking the Championship with two weeks to go

Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images
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There are two match days left before the Football League Championship playoffs, and there’s still no clarity outside of who will finish first.

The champion Wolverhampton Wanderers have a 12-point lead on second place, but there are three teams still alive for the second automatic promotion spot and technically seven who can make it into the playoffs.

[ MORE: LFC 2-1 Roma | Klopp reacts ]

May 6 is the final day, and all kickoffs will take place at 12:30 p.m. ET

Instant promotion battle

Cardiff City, Fulham, and Aston Villa are the three sides aiming to finish second, with Cardiff currently holding the advantage. Their 86 points are one more than Fulham, and four clear of Aston Villa.

2. Cardiff (86 pts, +28): at Hull City, vs. Reading
3. Fulham (85 pts, +34): vs. Sunderland, at Birmingham City
4. Aston Villa (82 pts, +31): vs. Derby County, at Millwall

Projection: Cardiff has a decent run-in, but Fulham’s path will carry it past them should the Bluebirds stumble at all. Aston Villa faces two sides aiming for the playoffs, and is probably plotting out its strategy for the playoffs themselves.

Playoff spots

Aside from the two above sides who fail to grab second, there are seven other sides within varying degrees of probability for a playoff spot. Middlesbrough and Derby County hold fifth and sixth now, but Millwall and Brentford are within a win of the Top Six and Preston North End, Bristol City, or Sheffield United could get in with a win and help.

5. Middlesbrough (72 pts, +20): vs. Millwall, at Ipswich Town
6. Derby County (71 pts,+19): at Aston Villa, vs. Barnsley
7. Millwall (69 pts, +12): at Middlesbrough, vs. Aston Villa
8. Brentford (68 pts, +12): at Barnsley, vs. Hull City
9. Preston (67 pts, +9): at Sheffield United, vs. Burton Albion
10. Bristol City (66 pts, +10): at Nottingham Forest, vs. Sheffield Utd
11. Sheffield United (66 pts, +7): vs. Preston, at Bristol City

Projection: Brentford is the only club without at least one date against a promotion hopeful, but everyone under 8th will be rooting for Derby to lose out (and probably Boro to draw Millwall?). Preston and Sheffield are likely staging a knockout match on Saturday. Expect Tony Pulis and Boro to avoid dropping from the Top Six, an Derby should manage its fate well even with Villa on the fixture list. Yet don’t be surprised if Brentford climbs into sixth even though the Bees have only claimed a point of six from their remaining opponents.

Behind the scenes: A look into an NYCFC player’s training routine

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Professional athletes are often lauded for their achievements on and off their field of play, but for those that have never played their respective sport at the highest level it is often difficult to exactly understand what occurs on an everyday basis for that athlete.

Regimented training schedules, as well as pre-planned diets for each player are only a few of the considerations that take place between a club and its players, and New York City FC is no different.

[ MORE: Sweden coach says Ibra must reach out to have chance at World Cup ]

On Tuesday, Pro Soccer Talk and various members of the media had the unique opportunity to visit the Etihad City Football Academy — NYCFC’s new, state-of-the-art training facility in Orangeburg, New York to get a closer look at what the daily life of a soccer player is like.

PST’s Matt Reed, and decided to keep a journal of many of the day’s activities, from getting all geared up in the locker room to viewing his performance from the day’s training session following the workout.

Below, we’ll take an hour-by-hour look at what it means to be an NYCFC player.


9 a.m. ET

Upon arriving in Orangeburg, the first thing noticeable when pulling off of the Palisades Parkway was the town’s devotion to soccer.

Before driving into the parking lot at NYCFC’s facility, it’s nearly impossible to miss the various turf fields that lie in front of the City Football Group-owned ground. Those fields belong to World Class FC — a local U.S. Soccer Development academy that has begun working closely with the Major League Soccer side.

After parking the car and walking through the front doors of the venue, there was immediately a presence that could not be overlooked. On the near-side wall was a global map, which featured pinpoints of each of CFG’s entities around the globe, which include parent club Manchester City, NYCFC and Melbourne City, among others.

Breakfast was the first item on the agenda in the team’s cafeteria, which featured an open setting that allows players to either eat inside or outdoors right next to the pitch. Every food and beverage item features a card next to it indicating the calorie intake, which is something the organization is making a strong effort to pay close attention to.

Following the meal, we had the chance to walk through the facility, which features a very similar setup to that of Man City and Melbourne. The design is said to be nearly identical to NYCFC’s sister club in Australia.

Many of the club’s full-time staff for both the senior and academy teams work on-site in Orangeburg, with an office view that allows the employees to look directly outside to the pitch.

One major emphasis from the club and its vision of the facility was to allow everybody to be inclusive of one another.

That was in focus when we visited the indoor training area, filled with weights, stationary bicycles and various workout machines. Not only can players view the pitch outside, but the team’s medical staff is able to see everything in that room, as well as on the opposite side of the wall where players can be tended to for injuries, massages, ice baths and other amenities.

New York City FC

10 a.m ET

Although NYCFC has been training at its new facility for over a month now, the occasion served as an official opportunity to open up the ground with all of the club’s executives.

Technical director Claudio Reyna and head coach Patrick Vieira were on-site for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, along with Vice-Chairman of NYCFC, Marty Edelman, and president Jon Patricof.

Photo by Anthony J. Causi

As several of NYCFC’s higher-ups alluded to on Tuesday, their vision for the new facility won’t be simply for the club, but also give the opportunity to other teams to practice in Orangeburg when they are in town.

Man City has already been scheduled to make a visit to the training ground in late July when the incumbent Premier League champions arrive in the United States for the International Champions Cup.

They’ll face PL giants Liverpool on July 25 at MetLife Stadium, approximately 30 minutes from the NYCFC training facility.

PST then had an opportunity to speak to several players and staff members in an open media forum, so we decided to provide some of the most-notable takeaways from the discussions.

Patrick Vieira on links to Arsenal

“Who? Vieira said jokingly. “No. I’m sure you would know before I do. It’s an honor, of course. It’s Arsenal Football Club, and it’s a big football club.

Vieira on how the club has been able to become more inclusive at the training ground

“When I was talking to Claudio about what we really wanted here we wanted our departments to interact with each other. We wanted to be more like a family. People can see each other. It’s not too small, and it’s not too flashy. You understand what I mean? You have what you need. There’s nothing over the top that we don’t need. Every single room makes sense. At the same time it’s good, and it’s simple. I really love this facility. There’s nothing extra that we don’t need.”

President Jon Patricof on vision for pursuing a stadium

“This is not going to put our fans at ease. And nor should it. Listen, MLS is continuing to grow and the stakes are rising. The standards are rising. We’re really proud of this facility, but this is what is expected of MLS clubs today. It’s a huge milestone. It’s important.In no way does it slow down our plans in pursuing a stadium. We have to and continue to press full speed on that front. I recognize that expectations are high. We are highly focused on it.”

Technical director Claudio Reyna on having their own facility

“Manchester is still part of the group, so it’s an extended home for us as part of the team. Also, in January the weather isn’t great here. Not that it’s great in Manchester either, but it allows us to send guys there and get some preparation ahead of the MLS season. But of course, what we didn’t have at SUNY Purchase for December and January was a gym space. And if the field is in good condition then we can obviously use it. The players come earlier and leave later. They want to stick around, and they do extra work. It’s very motivating for them. Since this will be our first offseason here, we’ll see how the players use it, but I think a lot of them will be here once the season is over.

Goalkeeper Sean Johnson on setting the standard for other MLS sides

“I can’t speak for the rest of Major League Soccer because I haven’t been around to many club’s training facilities, but what I can say is that from my experience this place doesn’t compare to anything I’ve seen. For a player to have a place like this is amazing, and us as players don’t take it for granted. We feel this is very special, and we want to make sure that we’re doing our part and give back.”

Midfielder Tommy McNamara on being from the Orangeburg area

“It’s beautiful. We’re very appreciative to have it. We’re given everything we need to compete. We feel very grounded and settled here like we’re at home. My parents live three miles down the road. My cousins, you could walk to their house from here. My sister grew up on those fields. It means a lot to me because this is literally home to me.”


11 a.m./12 p.m. ET

It’s impossible to pinpoint one specific highlight that created the best memory of the experience, but viewing the locker room and physically participating in training have to be high up on the list.

After sitting down for the interviews, we got to suit up just as NYCFC players would, went out to the pitch, and experienced a Vieira-led training session up close and personal.

Before moving to the field, members of the media were given their own kits and changed in the locker room, which featured a unique twist on a traditional changing area.

The circular dynamic of the room is another measure of the team’s willingness to create a welcoming atmosphere for its senior players.

That was something McNamara and Villa stated repeatedly during his interview sessions with the media, and they believe it is one of several reasons why the club’s camaraderie has improved with the current group of players.

Then, it was time to hit the training room for several workout exercises to warm up, including leg lifts, several forms of dynamic yoga and box-jumping routines.

Once the warmups were over and everyone was loose, we went out onto the pitch to receive instructions from Vieira and the rest of his training staff. The former Premier League midfielder broke the session up into different groups to focus on certain drills, as the team would on a regular training day.

A communication drill kicked off the on-field display, as players passed the ball to one another in a small 10 yard by 10 yard grid.

Then, games of 3 versus 3 and passing drills designed to find the open player were implemented to get a better feel for the group of players.

Needless to say, t’s very easy to see how difficult some of the exercises are…


1 p.m. ET

After a filling lunch back in the cafeteria, the final stop of the day brought us to the film room, where we had the chance to view some of the action from our on-field session.

Several members of NYCFC’s coaching staff indicated the importance of these sessions, which normally takes place in small groups. Vieira stated that he has put an emphasis on the meetings to not only point out areas where his players can improve, but also to indicate something a particular player is doing well.

Matt Reed/Pro Soccer Talk

One person, in particular, who is often only caught behind the scenes for the club is Head of Performance Analysis, Daniel Fradley. Vieira suggested that Fradley has been an integral part in NYCFC’s analytical approach, which has helped the club improve since the team’s inception over three years ago.

On a regular day of training, NYCFC players have the opportunity to speak with Vieira, Fradley and other members of the staff about their individual play from their session on the pitch. This includes individual tactical approaches, as well as how the group as a whole should be performing as a unit.


Training evaluation

For about five minutes, there was a strong sense within myself that I could impress Vieira and the rest in attendance, but then I came the realization that I haven’t played competitive soccer in years and this was a lot more difficult than I had anticipated.

To be perfectly blunt, the warmup exercises were tricky enough as it was, and that was only coupled by the fact that the on-field experience featured my very sloppy touches on the ball and several missed opportunities shooting on goal.

Straying away from my personal lack of soccer skills though, it’s very easy to see why the NYCFC players enjoy their new facility so much.

As Vieira stated so succinctly, “The venue isn’t too big and it isn’t too small. It has exactly everything that we need.”

UCL Preview: Will CR7 continue to haunt Bayern Munich?

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Bayern Munich hopes home field can be the key to its first win over Real Madrid in six tries.

The German powers have lost five-straight UEFA Champions League encounters against Real heading into Wednesday’s semifinal first leg at the Allianz Arena (2:45 p.m. ET kickoff).

[ MORE: LFC 2-1 Roma | Klopp reacts ]

Real knocked Bayern out of the 2013-14 and 2016-17 UCL, with Bayern eliminated Real in penalty kicks during the semifinal round of 2011-12.

All told, this is the 12th time Real and Bayern have met on the road to the European Cup.

It was the quarterfinal stage last season that saw Cristiano Ronaldo score five times over two legs including both goals in a 2-1 first leg win in Germany. He also scored twice against the Bavarians in 2013-14, and twice in 2011-12 (though he missed the first penalty of the semifinal shootout).

Real’s German midfielder, Toni Kroos, is quite wary of the superpowers from his home nation:

“I’ve been playing alongside a lot of Bayern players for many years now in the national team, but if you look at Bayern’s possible line-up, you can see that they have a lot of very good players. They’re in better shape than they were last year and we’ve got to go out and play our game.”

Real boss Zinedine Zidane knows there’s a juicy subplot with James Rodriguez on loan at Bayern and very much enjoying his football, but says it’s media-driven and nothing on the mind of Zizou or James.

“I didn’t want James to go, he decided to go. I never had any problem with James and it’s more about what is said in the press,” Zidane said, according to Goal.com. “I think he will be motivated because he is a football player. He doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone. Anyone that thinks I am against James is wrong. He will want to go out and prove himself but because he likes football and that’s it.”

Rodriguez has six goals and 12 assists across 34 appearances for Bayern this season, though just one assist has come in the UCL.

Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes says James’ exit from Real might’ve been desired but it wasn’t easy for the player.

“He was a little depressed,” Heynckes said. “I took care of him, I had lots of talks with him, and step by step he found confidence. He is more relaxed within the team. Our fans here, when they see him play football, they enjoy it. Above all he is a player who has fantasy, has an overview. He is more open-minded and gives the impression he feels well and has settled in Munich.”

Liverpool fan attacked by Roma support outside pub

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Ugly scenes surrounded Liverpool’s UEFA Champions League visit from AS Roma, as visiting supporters used the occasion as an excuse for violence.

[ MORE: LFC 2-1 Roma | Klopp reacts ]

Several reports say Roma support — some armed with belts, others with hammers — stormed Liverpool supporters outside a pub near Anfield, with a 53-year-old man requiring treatment after 80 people charged the Albert Pub using a side route.

The Liverpool Echo says Merseyside Police are investigating the incident, and Sunday Times football correspondent Jonathan Northcroft provides some details on the harrowing events.